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Border with Quebec raises value of COVID-19 vaccine passport in Ottawa: Moloughney

As Quebec prepares to implement a COVID-19 vaccine passport, Ottawa's associate medical officer of health predicts an "imbalance in policies" could lead to issues for Ottawa with no equivalent certification in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ottawa’s associate medical officer of health said Wednesday that the city’s shared border with Gatineau, Que., makes the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine certification especially useful as the neighbouring province prepares to issue its own passport system.

Speaking to media in a mid-week update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, Dr. Brent Moloughney said the city’s situation when it comes to a potential vaccine passport is “a bit unique” because of its proximity to Quebec and the regular volume of interprovincial travel across the Ottawa River.

“We’ve seen over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic that anytime there’s an imbalance in policies between Ontario and Quebec, people move accordingly,” Moloughney said.

It’s a trend that could quickly become relevant again as Quebec prepares to implement its own vaccine passport policy next week.

Click to play video: 'Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccine passport app ready for download' Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccine passport app ready for download
Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccine passport app ready for download – Aug 24, 2021

Access to many non-essential services such as restaurants and gyms in Gatineau will soon be contingent on flashing a digital proof of vaccination. Ontario residents will be allowed admission as well if they show a copy their second-dose vaccination receipts as well as proof of address.

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But the Ontario government has indicated it will not provide any formal vaccine certification beyond these paper or PDF receipts, leading to another imbalance that worries health officials on the Ottawa side of the river.

Moloughney said he’s heard concerns especially from the business community that they’d prefer a “level playing field” with Gatineau.

“That’s going to have a net impact on our businesses, where they’re going to be potentially losing business and potentially unvaccinated people in Quebec who can not access their non-essential venues will be coming here,” Moloughney said.

“I think for a variety of reasons, it would be helpful to have some kind of certification system here.”

Read more: Toronto restaurateur targeted by protesters calls on premier for COVID-19 vaccine passports

Despite assertions that a certification tool would be “useful,” officials in Ottawa have pushed back against the idea of the health unit implementing its own vaccine passport — even as Peel Region said this week it would explore its own options for a local vaccine certificate.

While Moloughney said Ottawa Public Health will be watching the Peel plan closely, he said a vaccine passport initiative should be led by the province, which centrally maintains vaccination records for all Ontarians.

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“These things sound easy. They’re not so easy to do. I think it’s more straightforward to do it centrally,” he said.

Vaccine mandates have become more and more prevalent in Ottawa in recent days, with TD Place and fall festival organizers requiring patrons to be fully vaccinated before attending their events.

OPH reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 in the city on Wednesday as the number of people in hospital with the virus fell to three.

There have now been 175 confirmed or suspected cases of the more transmissible Delta variant in the city in the past 30 days.

Some 79 per cent of Ottawa adults have now received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as OPH begins offering a third shot to the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Click to play video: 'Ethical concerns around vaccination passports' Ethical concerns around vaccination passports
Ethical concerns around vaccination passports – Aug 24, 2021

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